The Case for Complete LOCAL Neighbourhoods (Auckland Also Struggles at Planning for our Metropolitan Centres)

Apart from work (maybe) why shouldnt everything else be close to home


In Auckland and even my Cities Skylines cities there is a tendency to struggle with building complete local neighbourhoods. That is neighbourhoods where the residents apart from work and maybe a day out in the rural environment or town (say a sports or cultural event) the rest of their requirements are fulfilled locally. I am going to set the definition of ‘local’ to give a better Urban Geographic context for both Auckland and Cities Skylines.

  • Inter-Regional: between two cities or regions. E.g Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. For Cities Skylines that is “outside the map”
  • Regional: in Auckland’s case it is the City itself and the surrounding rural area. Same applies to Cities Skylines
  • Sub-regional: in Auckland this can be either Southern Auckland, the Isthmus and West or the North (North Shore, Albany and Rodney). Cities Skylines doesn’t have a clear definition of sub-regional although defining physical geographic features such as rivers or large bays can assist when establishing two City Centres and their catchments
  • Local: Easiest way to do this one is Local Board areas for Auckland and individual Districts in Cities Skylines. Note: with Cities Skylines Districts can include pure industrial complexes (no residential in them) and soon Park districts (when the Park Life DLC lands on the 26th) that would otherwise have regional catchments.


Typically (with Auckland anyway) we have followed a mono-centric type of planning where everything is planned round a single Core (the City Centre) and the transport networks radiate out from that single Core. This creates problems in itself for a multitude of reasons some including:

  • Transit Planning revolves around the 9-5 Monday to Friday commute with substandard off-peak and weekend services. South Auckland is going through this again with Auckland Transport slashing evening bus services (as the price of fuel goes up as well). See: Auckland Transport Metro’s ‘Institutionalised Racism’ Costs South Auckland Their Bus Services
  • Sub-regional Centres like the Metropolitan Centres are forgotten about in Planning and thus left to their on devices
  • Local Centres (Town Centres) are often closed on weekends so residents will be travelling to Metropolitan Centres or a City Centre in any case. Most of our major malls (St Lukes being an exception) are in the Metropolitan Centres and six of those Metro Centres sit on a Rapid Transit Network Line with a seventh (Botany) about to join the ranks when the Southern Airport Line and Eastern Busway are both built
  • The major consequence from the lack of planning with our sub-regional Metropolitan Centres and a transport network that is based around a single City Centre with the 9-5 Monday to Friday commute is that we get all day and every day congestion with local neighbourhoods becoming isolated


Strong Towns goes into this more and in-depth:




I’m interested in creating livable, walkable, human-scale cities, and one of the most important elements to creating a livable city is the development pattern of your local neighborhood. We talk about car dependency being bad and limiting our freedom, but what does ‘transportation freedom’ look like? Waiting for a bus every time you leave home? Not so much. I believe that the most free mode of transportation is one that doesn’t require any vehicle to get around — thus, our largest gains with building livable, human-scale cities come from building foot-oriented neighborhoods.

Any talk of reducing car dependency is often followed by a conversation about “transit-oriented development” or other ways of inducing transit usage. It’s easy to induce transit usage — put all of your residential housing on top of one set of subway stations, and everything else on top of another set. Then space everything out so you can’t walk between everything. Your trains will be crowded and ridership will skyrocket!

But, that isn’t very livable nor is it much better than being car dependent; it leaves you dependent on trains and billions of dollars to get around, only to find out you need to send a billion more to keep up with demand. Sounds like Le Corbusier’s City of Tomorrow.

The best way to easily and affordable get people around is to reduce the distance they have to travel. If you move things close enough and make it comfortable to get around, people will walk.




Cities are divided into neighborhoods, and if you’ve ever spent time living in a walkable city without a car, you know that your quality of life is largely dependent on the amenities within your neighborhood — the walkshed of your home.A good neighborhood will have enough variety of restaurants to keep you satisfied, along with schools, parks, grocery stores, walk-in clinics, entertainment, etc. If you were fortunate enough to work from or close to home, it’s the sort of neighborhood you could go months without leaving and not feel like you’re missing out on anything.What I’m describing here is what I like to call a Complete Neighborhood.
Macdougal St in Greenwich Village, New York. Chaotic and vibrant, with everything you need is close by. This is a Complete Neighbourhood.
Source: Strong Towns


If you’re sick, it’s even more miserable to wait outside for the bus. It’s also gross to ride the bus next to someone who’s coughing and sniffing, and I am sure your Uber driver wouldn’t appreciate it either. But we all get sick, so it is incredibly important to have walk-in clinics scattered around that don’t take more than 10 minutes to walk to.
Relaxing on the lawn at Elysian Park, a few minutes from where I live.
If you live in an apartment without a yard and the weather is nice, you want to go outside and be a few minutes from a park, not go outside and wait on a bus to take you to a park. When I have children, I think it would be more reassuring to think of them playing down the street at the park, rather than taking a bus across the city to a far away park.
A good neighborhood will also offer entertainment options (a bar with live music, a movie theater, a dance club, a comedy club — whatever your scene is) where you don’t have to worry about a curfew imposed by the transit system shutting down or Uber surge-charging you during the wee hours of the morning.
This isn’t to say you will never leave your neighborhood; you may commute a long distance to work, you may want to explore other areas of the city, spend the day out shopping, have a night out on the town, visit friends who live in other neighborhoods, etc.
(All photos by Andrew Price unless otherwise noted. Top photo from Pixabay)


Full article and source:


Essentially what the article is going on about is that most of our activities should be able to be done within easy distance of a Town Centre at best and if you do need to travel a sub-regional Metropolitan Centre “at worst” via transit.


The ranking of the Centres
Source: Auckland Unitary Plan


This is how our Centres are ranked (although Metropolitan Centres were meant to serve Sub-Regional catchments) in the Unitary Plan and Auckland Plan 2012. The Auckland Plan 2050 shifts three of our Metropolitan Centres out into a new sub category called a Node:

Example of an AP2050 Node – Manukau
Source: Auckland Council

A Node signalling that this Metropolitan Centre would have regional and in Manukau’s case inter-regional catchments applying.

But I am digressing a bit here.


So the Auckland and Unitary Plans spell out how our Centres are meant to work and for everything in play (especially as the Nodes will mature through time) we ask why are we not getting more Complete Neighbourhoods that would boost local communities, their Centres and lessen congestion.

Two reasons:

  1. Local Boards are not funded properly to upkeep and renew the Local and Town Centres (also a case of if they have a Metropolitan Centre given the bulk of such a Centre they would overwhelm the Local Board’s meagre resources for upkeep and renewal. No offence to Manurewa and Otara-Papatoetoe Local Boards but Manukau is simply too big for Local Boards to take on their own without help from Council or even Central Government).
  2. Planning is still too centralised with resources focused at the City Centre (including based) and still too mono-centric even with the rise of the Nodes.


So what do we do?

Local Boards are required to create Local Board Plans and Local Boards will focus on their Centres as wanting to renew them and bring them into the 21st Century. The problem is lack of funding and power to execute these plans as the power resides and is at the “pleasure” of the Governing Body of Auckland Council. Local Boards need to be bulk funded and have better powers to bring in Targeted Rates so that they can truly renew their Centres and create links to their residential areas. Papakura Metropolitan Centre is a 12 minute walk from where I live but the area needs serious attention if I want it to be a Complete Neighbourhood and keep my dollars there rather than Manukau which has more offerings.


With Cities Skylines I don’t have Local Boards within my many Districts inside the City but I can still work on creating Complete Neighbourhoods. Outside of the often twin City Centres and “Downtown” (the primary Core I will always run with a City Centre (residential and Office) and a Downtown (residential and commercial/tourism/leisure)) each District that has residential in it will have enough Light Commercial zoned land to allow that respective District to be near self-sufficient. By that I mean enough commercial services, office and medical centres (that I place down) within said District that you can do around 90% of your activities within that area – i.e close to home. All Districts have local transit and active mode infrastructure set within them allowing most of the Cims to walk, cycle or catch transit to their local destination. Leisure and Tourist Districts (those outside of a City Centre) are spread around the City as well, meaning it would be the equivalent of me going from Papakura to Manukau by transit to get to more major entertainment and hospitality locations. Again these Districts are served by transit and cycle-highways. At full Regional level the Metro system (subway, heavy rail, Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail or Monorail) is available to move Cims around.

When Park Life comes out it will be interesting to see how the dynamics change as I can do larger scale parks, amusement parks and entertainment areas.


In the end I am mindful when planning my Cities and trying to encourage complete neighbourhoods. It is not that easy when your City is one giant sprawl although cross-city commuting is mitigated by the twin City Centre approach I often take. With San Layton City I am going to try the Island approach where you have a Core (or dual Core) area of the main urban form that is connected by road, rail and transit to local “islands” with Greenbelt in between. With Park Life coming out and me getting use to using monorail to connect the urban islands (leaving heavy rail from trans-city passenger and freight running, and light rail for intra-island running) trying this new method that both maximises Green Utility and allows for Complete Neighbourhoods will be an interesting Urban Geography experiment.

I must not get my industrial complexes though as they will always attract large pools of workers and the congestion that goes with it .


Auckland needs to do better in planning our Metropolitan Centres and allowing for Complete Neighbourhoods. South Auckland will be the closest too it (although at sub regional level) given 50% of the South’s residents commute within the South already and most can have their recreational and hospitality needs fulfilled with facilities already existing in the South. Mt Smart for Rugby league is easily accessible by bus or train for the South and the City Centre further it has no real attraction apart from work or Universities. As Manukau evolves and things like hotels in Manukau City Centre continue to expand (thus bring in more tourist facilities) the attraction to stay within the sub-region will be stronger.

That said work needs to be done to beef up our Town Centres and Local Centres so that for basic needs we could walk or catch a feeder bus rather than having to traverse several kilometres to Manukau.


What do you think?


An artist’s impression of the planned Parramatta Light Rail at Church St, Parramatta. Source: The Daily Telegraph